Hall of Fame Weekend preview

This year’s Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, a week earlier than usual to avoid conflict with the Olympics, may produce an oddity. There may be more people attending for the deceased inductee (Ron Santo) than the living one (Barry Larkin). That’s not a shot at the deserving Larkin; it’s simply a testament to the sustaining popularity of Santo, a Chicago legend and Midwest icon whose presence continues to be felt a year and a half after he passed away.

I expect about 20,000 fans in town for this week’s festivities, an increase over the lackluster showings of the past two years, when relatively few fans attended the inductions of Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven and Pat Gillick (2011), and Andre Dawson, Whitey Herzog, and Doug Harvey (2010). A crowd in the twenties is nothing extraordinary, but it’s certainly an improvement and a continued step in the right direction for the Hall, which has seen its attendance increase by about 4,000 compared to a year ago.

Approximately 42 Hall of Famers are expected to attend the ceremony (for a complete and updated list, visit http://www.baseballhall.org), a decrease from the usual 50 to 55 we’ve seen in recent years. The diminishing numbers are the result of the advancing age of some of the membership, recent deaths, and other factors. Members like Bobby Doerr and Larry MacPhail are in their 90s, while Stan Musial’s health prevents him traveling. Also, the Hall has lost some of its most dedicated members in recent years, like Sparky Anderson, Bob Feller, Harmon Killebrew, Robin Roberts, and Dick Williams, all of whom used to visit the Hall on a regular basis.

In addition, four of the game’s legends—Hank Aaron, Ralph Kiner, Tom Seaver and Don Sutton—are not attending this year’s event because of scheduling conflicts.

Also conspicuous by his absence will be Reggie Jackson, who was on the original list to attend, but has now decided not to take part, presumably because of his negative comments about Blyleven, the late Gary Carter, Phil Niekro, the late Kirby Puckett, Jim Rice and Don Sutton. (Instead, Jackson will be joining the Yankees during their West Coast trip in Oakland.) Jackson tends to be a loner at induction weekends, usually spending more time with members of his entourage than other Hall of Famers, but the atmosphere could have been particularly tense if he had proceeded with his original plans to attend. So he’ll stay away, and hope some of the hard feelings melt away by next year.

While the focus remains on the Hall of Famers, I’m just as interested in the non-Hall of Fame players and managers who will be visiting Cooperstown this weekend. Like most of the Hall of Famers, some will be participating in signings along Main and Pioneer streets. Here’s a rundown on those ex-major leaguers and Negro Leaguers who are scheduled to be in James Fenimore Cooper’s town this weekend:

*Former Yankees ace Ron Guidry, ex-Met and Red Art Shamsky, and former Negro Leagues right-hander/first baseman Bob Scott (who played for the New York Black Yankees) will be signing at T.J.’s Place on Main Street.

*Four retired hitters—Eric Davis, Cecil Fielder, Dave Parker, and Sweet Lou Piniella—will sign at the Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum on Main Street.

*Randy Hundley, the longtime Cubs catcher, and Bert Campaneris, member of the “Mustache Gang” and now a Cooperstown regular, will be signing at the Cooperstown Bat Company, also on Main Street.

*Lee Smith, who has been on the Hall of Fame ballot since 2003, will be signing at CVS Pharmacy.

*Dwight Gooden will be signing at the Tunnicliff Inn on Pioneer Street.

The guest list for Sunday’s ceremony, which starts at 1:30 at the Clark Sports Center, also includes some big names, including former Reds Eric Davis, Sean Casey and Tom Browning; ex-Cubs Hundley, Glenn Beckert, and the recently retired Kerry Wood; ex-Phillies right-hander Larry Christenson (a good friend of Frick Award winner Tim McCarver), and retired Cardinals skipper Tony LaRussa. The manager of the defending world champions, LaRussa will be honored as part of a special tribute to three generations of great Cardinals managers, with Hall of Famers Red Schoendienst and Whitey Herzog also being recognized on Sunday.

A number of other events will hallmark the weekend, including some that are not usually part of the routine of Hall of Fame Weekend. Here are some of the highlights:

Friday will be marked by a first-day-of-issues stamp dedication for the four new baseball stamps being issued by the U.S, Postal Service. The four stamps, depicting Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Larry Doby and Willie Stargell, will be unveiled at 10 a.m. at the Hall of Fame. The ceremony, which will feature Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, is by invitation only, but will be shown via closed circuit on a large screen in Cooper Park, adjacent to the museum. The stamps will be available nationwide that same day.

Saturday will feature something new. From 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., the Cubs will be hosting a reception in honor of Santo at the Fenimore Art Museum. Free and open to the public (though donations will be accepted), the reception will feature Cubs officials and several of Santo’s former teammates. This is the first time that I can remember one of the major league teams hosting a public event in Cooperstown for a newly enshrined member; it’s a great idea. Bravo, Chicago.

Also on Saturday will be the awards presentation, which debuted to much success last year. The 4:30 p.m. event, at Doubleday Field, will honor this year’s Frick winner (McCarver) and the Spink Award winner (Bob Elliott). Like many of the weekend events, admission is free.

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One of the best events of the weekend remains the Parade of Legends, which will proceed down Main Street and culminate in the Hall of Famers stepping into the museum for the annual Saturday night party. Large crowds tend to gather right in front of the museum, where the Hall of Famers step off their cars. So if you’re looking for a less crowded vantage point, position yourself at the corner of Main and Chestnut Streets (where Cooperstown‘s lone traffic light is located). You’ll be more likely to enjoy a view that is less impeded.

Finally, there will be a Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) meeting on Sunday at 6 p.m., at Tillapaugh’s Funeral Home on Pioneer Street. (Yes, the meeting takes place in a funeral home!) There will be a number of presentations, including one by former Hall of Fame curator Ted Spencer. I’ll also be presenting a talk on the significance of the 1972 Topps baseball card set.

Perhaps we’ll see you there. Meanwhile, stay with us for periodic updates from Hall of Fame Weekend in Cooperstown.

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Bruce Markusen is the manager of Digital and Outreach Learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He has authored seven baseball books, including biographies of Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Ted Williams, and A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, which was awarded SABR's Seymour Medal.

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Bruce Markusen
Bruce Markusen

One added note: Pete Rose will be appearing in town this weekend and will be filming an episode for his new reality series on The Learning Channel. (This stuff cannot be made up.) Additionally, Rose will be signing at Safe at Home collectibles on Main Street.

Bruce Markusen
Bruce Markusen

For those autograph seekers in the audience, here are some additional signings taking place this weekend.

*Ex-Tigers ace Denny McLain will sign at Paterno Brothers Sports on Main Street on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

*Former Yankees Ron Blomberg, Elliott Maddox, and Roy White will all appear at Seventh Inning Stretch on Main Street on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.